What We’re Watching: Hungarian referendum, Iran water protests, US-Germany make pipeline deal

What We’re Watching: Hungarian referendum, Iran water  protests, US-Germany make pipeline deal

Hungary to hold referendum on LGBT law: Rightwing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán says there is no problem with a new Hungarian law that limits what schools can teach about homosexuality and transgender issues. But the EU and human rights activists say the bill discriminates against LGBT people, and Brussels has threatened disciplinary action against Budapest. Orbán is pushing back, arguing that the EU is trampling the rights and preferences of the Hungarian people — and to prove it, he has announced a popular referendum on the law. The date hasn't been set, but expect the vote to be a major flashpoint ahead of next year's general elections, when the avowedly "illiberal" Orbán will face a challenge from the liberal mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karacsony, who beat an Orbán ally to win city hall in 2019.


Iran's water crisis: For almost a week, people in Iran's Khuzestan province have been protesting over water shortages as result of droughts, soaring temperatures, and power outages that have knocked out water pumping stations. And there's a long back story: Khuzestanis complain they haven't had drinkable tap water since the 1980s, when most infrastructure was destroyed during the Iran-Iraq War, because the Shia government of Iran has neglected investing in this Sunni-majority province. In recent days, the Tehran has deployed the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to bring water tanks. President Ebrahim Raisi — who's barely a month into the job — wants to nip the current crisis in the bud before things go from bad to worse in Khuzestan, a region with separatist tensions fueled by Shia discrimination that holds 80 percent of Iran's oil and 60 percent of its natural gas.

Nord Stream 2 is on: After years of disagreement over the proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the US and Germany have reached an agreement that opens the way to construction of the project, which would bring gas from Russia to Western Europe under the Baltic Sea. Great news for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who needs more Russian natural gas for the German economy, as well as to help her country — and the wider EU — attain net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It's also a big win for Vladimir Putin: Russia will gain even more leverage with the Europeans as the pipeline will double the amount of gas it now sells them. Bad news for US ally Ukraine, which Russia will be able to cut off from gas that transits overland through Ukrainian territory whenever Moscow wants to pressure Kyiv, without affecting European customers. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has chosen to give Europe a bone in order to restore damaged ties under the Trump administration, at the expense of domestic blowback over Ukraine and Russia.

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Australian Open - First Round - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 21, 2020 China's Peng Shuai in action during the match against Japan's Nao Hibino

The Women’s Tennis Association this week decided to suspend all tournaments in China, over doubts that the country’s star player Peng Shuai is safe and sound. Peng recently disappeared for three weeks after accusing a former Vice Premier of sexual assault. Although she has since resurfaced, telling the International Olympic Committee that she’s fine and just wants a little privacy, there are still concerns that Peng has been subjected to intimidation by the Chinese state.

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What We're Watching: Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell, Iran nuclear talks resume

Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell. Although she doesn't officially step down as German Chancellor until next week, Angela Merkel's sendoff took place on Thursday night in Berlin, with the traditional Grosser Zapfenstreich — a musical aufweidersehen, replete with torches and a military band. By custom, the honoree gets to choose three songs for the band to play. Among Merkel's otherwise staid choices was a total curveball: You Forgot the Colour Film, a 1974 rock hit by fellow East German Nina Hagen, a renowned punk rocker. The song, a parody bit about a man who takes the singer on vacation but has only black-and-white film in his camera, was understood as a dig at the drabness of life in the East. We're listening to the tune, and... digging it, kind of — but we still prefer Merkel's own Kraftwerk-inspired farewell song from Puppet Regime. Eins, zwei, drei, it's time to say goodbye...

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World leaders at the G20 Summit in Rome, October 2021

This week, the World Health Organization’s governing body agreed to begin multinational negotiations on an agreement that would boost global preparedness to deal with future pandemics. The WHO hopes that its 194 member countries will sign a treaty that helps ensure that the global response to the next pandemic is better coordinated and fairer.

The specifics remain to be negotiated over the coming months – and maybe longer – but the stated goal of those who back this plan is a treaty that will commit member countries to share information, virus samples, and new technologies, and to ensure that poorer countries have much better access than they do now to vaccines and related technologies.

Crucially, backers of the treaty insist it must be “legally binding.”

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Abortion rights and anti-abortion demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court while the court holds a hearing on a Mississippi abortion ban, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, December 1, 2021.

On Wednesday the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on an issue that has had Americans fighting — and in some cases killing — each other for 50 years: abortion.

The court must decide whether a recent Mississippi state law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy is legal and, more broadly, whether it runs counter to the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973.

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Coronavirus in Deutschland - Covid-19-Dashboard des Robert Koch-Institut 01.12.2021:

67,186: Germany announced Thursday that people who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 will be subject to new restrictions, including being unable to enter stores and gather in large groups. This comes as Germany recorded 67,186 new cases Thursday, hundreds more than the previous day, according to the Robert Koch Institute. Hospitals are filling up and Chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz, who comes into office next week, says he would support broad vaccine mandates.

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S2 Episode 7: Why biodiversity loss matters to governments and investors


Listen: Are global leaders finally taking needed action on environmental issues? Coming out of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, we've seen governments agree to a certain set of policies to fight climate change. But that isn't the only urgent environmental issue we face. The twin problem of climate change AND biodiversity loss are a serious threat to not just governments, but also investors.

The latest episode of Living Beyond Borders, a special podcast series from GZERO brought to you by Citi Private Bank, looks at how important biodiversity is to the global economy, and what leaders need to do to prevent further loss. Moderated by Caitlin Dean, Head of the Geostrategy Practice at Eurasia Group, this episode features Anita McBain, Managing Director at Citi Research, heading EMEA ESG Research; Harlin Singh, Global Head of Sustainable Investing at Citi Global Wealth; and Mikaela McQuade, Director of Energy, Climate and Resources at Eurasia Group.

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The Graphic Truth: Abortion laws around the world

While the debate over fetal rights vs a woman’s right to choose is particularly ferocious in the US, it’s also a divisive issue in many parts of the world, particularly in countries where the Catholic Church holds influence. We take a look at abortion laws globally, as well as countries with the highest and lowest official abortion rates.

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